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On April 23, 2020, the conservative majority issued a decision affecting immigrants in Barton v. Barr. Many pro-immigrant advocates have written scathing commentary about the case, using it as an example of the conservative majority on the Supreme Court moving in line with Trump’s agenda to make it easier to deport documented immigrants in addition to undocumented individuals. But, was the decision as bad as everyone says?

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Barton V. Barr

The case known as Barton v. Barr involved the possible deportation of a legal permanent resident, also known as a green card holder, from Jamaica named Barton. In his nearly 30 years as a legal permanent resident, Barton had been convicted of three crimes: aggravated assault involving a deadly weapon, and two drug offenses.

After his drug offenses, the government charged him as deportable from the United States. Barton applied for a defense available for permanent residents commonly known as “cancellation of removal.” Under this defense, legal permanent residents can avoid deportation if they

  1. have never been convicted of an aggravated felony;
  2. have not committed certain crimes during their first 7 years lawfully residing in the United States;
  3. show they otherwise deserve mercy.

Barton committed the assault crime involving weapons during his first 7 years of lawful status. His conviction occurred after the 7 years, however. Thus, Barton argued he was eligible to cancel his removal. The government argued he was not eligible because they said the law says you are not eligible if you “commit” certain crimes.

The Supreme Court in Barton was not the first to decide this issue. Previously, the Eleventh, Second, Third, and Fifth Circuits had decided similar cases and found that if you “commit” one of the enumerated crimes, you are ineligible. The Ninth Circuit ruled that a lawful permanent resident’s commission of an offense listed in §1182(a)(2) makes the noncitizen ineligible for cancellation of removal only if that offense was one of the offenses of removal. Because five of the highest Courts in the USA were split on this issue, the Supreme Court took up the case.

The Supreme Court agreed with the Four Circuit Courts who found the plain language of the statute renders a lawful permanent resident ineligible for cancellation of removal if they commit certain crimes in the first 7 years of eligibility. They found that Congress specifically wrote this into law to try and strike the right balance between honoring the length of residency of someone in the United States but disfavoring the continued residency of violent criminals who are repeat offenders.

What Current Green Card Holders Need to Know

So was the holding really so horrible as some advocates are saying? Probably not. First, four of the highest courts in the United States had already interpreted this particular issue in the same way as the Supreme Court. Second, the holding only affects legal permanent residents who are repeat criminal offenders and have had immigration proceedings initiated against them because of their multiple convictions.

Finally, the Supreme Court was quick to point out that this holding does not affect individuals who have merely been accused of committing crimes. One must have either admitted to committing the crime in the first 7 years OR been accused AND convicted of the crime. Those who have won their cases, had their cases dropped, or had their cases dismissed will not be affected by this decision.

Contact a North Carolina Immigration Attorney

If you have further questions about how this might affect your immigration case, contact us today to schedule a consultation with one of our immigration attorneys. We have offices in Winston-Salem, Greensboro, and High Point, North Carolina.